Category Archives: Harry Potter

Dive Urgent

A quick note on the ending of Treasure Island—it’s not Jim that lets Silver go, but Ben Gunn. This makes a lot more sense in terms of the story (Gunn is afraid of Silver, so is unlikely to stand up to him). I suspect a lot of adaptations make it Jim instead because they’re playing up the disreputable-mentor relationship between Jim and Silver, and that moment of “I don’t agree with your life choices, but I’ll give you a chance to have a quiet retirement” puts a nice cap on that. Anyway…

What I really want to mention is the Divergent series, so there are potential spoilers in the remainder of this post. Having seen the first film, we decided to read the books*. I got in first, and have currently read the first two, but Rose Red leapfrogged me and has finished the third. She looked unhappy about it, but was unwilling to say more until I’d caught up, so I’d better get a wiggle on.

It’s an interesting case where in some ways the film was better than the book (or at least the first one—I can’t say yet about the second, or the obligatory 2-part-finale). The training process was clearer, especially with how Tris needed to treat the simulations so as to do well, but not reveal her deviance. Also, the finale worked a bit better given the showdown with Jeanine. Minor details, but they seem to help. I’d probably put it down to the author being an inexperienced student (boy oh boy is it inspired by Psyc101) versus experienced filmmakers.

Most seem to view it as cookie-cutter young-adult fiction, entertaining in places but not worthy of examination. For the most part, I would agree; Harry Potter or The Hunger Games are much stronger thematically, and more worthy of analysis and discussion. But what am I if not someone who thinks too much about things? 🙂

The Factions

I rather like the idea of the factions as being reactionary based on minimising what each thought was the flaw in society: Abnegation and selfishness, Amity and discord, Candor and deception, Dauntless and cowardice, Erudite and ignorance. Through the books/film each faction shows both the benefits and the weaknesses of this: Abnegation deny themselves, harming interpersonal relationships; Amity follow the majority rule, even if individuals are harmed by the decision; Candor tend to be rude, nosy and blunt; Dauntless are ruthless and bullying; Erudite are dispassionate, lacking in empathy.

What’s more interesting, is that the flaws and mistakes of each faction are in many ways an example of the trait they are trying to remove. Abnegation are passive-aggressive, treating all information on a need-to-know basis, but pridefully assuming they know who needs to know. Amity will enforce peace, even at the cost of subjugation. Candor are in denial about the potential costs or harm from the truth***. Dauntless are afraid of showing any weakness or vulnerability. Erudite are unaware of life from other perspectives (other factions or the factionless). And all seem to have a signature serum tied to their perspective (well, except Abnegation, so far).

I can’t help but be reminded of the start of 1 Corinthians 13:

If I speak in the languages of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. (from the NIV)

The factions are trying to fix people, but are too focused on the letter of the law rather than the intention of it, hence rigid enforcement of “Teh Rules” when a more nuanced approach would (potentially) be better.

The Ending/Cliffhanger

In many ways, the big reveals at the end of Insurgent (the Factionless want to dismantle the Faction system; the whole society is a breeding programme for “divergents”, though how being divergent helps is still unclear) are not surprising. There is plenty of foreshadowing in terms of people forming alliances but having their own agendas, the wall designed to keep in rather than keep out, many things seeming real but turning out to be a simulation, etc. What is bad about the ending is that it feels like it’s missing a chapter or two: between-book cliffhangers need to be given a little more padding. The story should still be self-contained, and feel like it’s reached a conclusion. The end of the first book achieved this: we knew there was still a lot to be resolved, but if no sequel had eventuated, it still feels like an ending.

This seems to be an annoying habit (mainly recently, but there’s probably several older examples as well) of the middle book/film in a trilogy. Fade to black. “To be continued”. Come back next year. I guess it’s a likely outcome given advance deals, but it could still be done better. The Empire Strikes Back is rare example of getting it right. Imagine if George Lucas had been run over by a submarine, and Return of the Jedi never happened; sure, we’d want to know how things worked out, but the film doesn’t feel incomplete. It has an ending, albeit “things are bad, but we’re quietly hopeful” rather than triumphant. Hopefully the filmmakers have done the same with Insurgent (I’ve heard it diverges from the book quite a bit, anyway).

So, off to read Allegiant (probably swiftly followed by being vented at by Rose Red).

* Many reviewers (including family & friends) thought the series got progressively worse, and advise against reading the third. We’re gluttons for punishment**, so we decided to anyway.

** Bearing in mind, we thought the Matrix sequels were okay. Not mind-blowing like the first one, but acceptable don’t-think-too-much-about-it entertainment.

*** I’ve mused in a bit more depth about this topic over on my other blog.

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Posted by on April 18, 2015 in Harry Potter, Other


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Role models

“What a great quote! It’s so inspiring! I’m going to use it to undergird my philosophy of life!”

Okay, probably a bit on the nose. But people are influenced (usually subtly) by memorable statements. So it’s important to not only understand them, but also to be aware of who is behind them. In the case of fiction, the character is probably more significant than the author (unless the author is Ayn Rand). “Greed is good”* was never meant to be aspirational, but to highlight the flaws of Gordon Gekko. Similarly “There is no good and evil, there is only power…and those too weak to seek it.” should not be attributed to the author as though they agreed with the sentiment: it’s attributed to Voldemort, a card-carrying supervillain if ever there was.

So, who should Harry Potter (and his readers) look to for moral guidance? There are a large number of characters surrounding him, most of them ostensibly on the side of “good”, but who to trust?** Once you’ve filtered out the obvious baddies, what of the rest? Almost all of them are painted very human—that is to say, while they may present a good example at times, they don’t always get it right. They have flaws. They make mistakes. They exhibit behaviours that you wouldn’t want to emulate. Harry struggles with this dilemma very explicitly: he wants to admire and look up to his father, James, but then discovers what a jerk he was as a teenager***.

But throughout the series, Harry is presented as looking up to (even though not always getting on with) one character: Albus etc. etc. Dumbledore. By extension, the reader is encouraged to view Dumbledore as a mentor, hero, and good example. At least, before the revelations of the Deathly Hallows. But even then, Dumbledore appears as a posthumous advisor (with it left open as to whether it’s actually him, or just Harry’s imagination). In a way, though, learning more of his history and his faults makes Dumbledore a better example: we know he’s been there, done that, has struggles that we can relate to, so it reinforces what he says (e.g. “It is important to fight and fight again, and keep fighting, for only then can evil be kept at bay, though never quite eradicated.”).

However, don’t let that stop you analysing any statement, from Dumbledore or anyone else; it’s often interesting to explore nuances and try to figure out how something relates to your given situation. After all, you can have all the good advice in the world, but ultimately you are the one making the choice. “_____ said to do it” isn’t much of a justification, and isn’t going to impress the Judge.

* And yes, I’m aware that this is a paraphrase rather than a direct quote. It’s what everyone remembers him saying, which reinforces the way audiences can be beguiled by a charismatic villain or a snappy-sounding quote.

** Which, in a way, is one of the recurring themes of the series; there are betrayals, spies, doppelgänger and the like in every book.

*** Lets be honest (at least, those of us past that age), which of us didn’t behave like a prat as a teenager? Fortunately, most grow out of it once our hormones and so forth settle down.

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Posted by on February 23, 2015 in General, Harry Potter


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Long Sleeves

…with a lot of things up them. So far up the sleeves, in fact, that they’re close to the chest.

Requisite heavily-laboured metaphors dispensed with, I’ll (attempt to) get to the point.

Despite Dumbledore’s claims at the end of Order of the Phoenix that he would tell Harry “everything”, we find he is still imparting information to Harry in Half-Blood Prince. Harry quite rightly calls him out on this, and his response is that he has conveyed all the facts, and the information he is imparting now is conjecture.

Apart from this simply reeking of palliation*, it has the potential to undermine Harry’s trust. How can he believe any assurances Dumbledore makes in the future?

But this mitigation aside, Dumbledore is just flat-out lying. There are lots of other things he knows that would be of use to Harry in his future quest to defeat Voldemort. He could tell him about Professor Snape’s motivations**. That the Sword of Gryffindor is now basilisk-powered for improved pest control. That Draco has taken the Dark Mark, Dumbledore and Snape know about his mission, and are monitoring him. That his cloak is The OMGWTFBBQ Invisibility Cloak of Hallowed Deathlyness. But he doesn’t.

So, why not? Well, besides the fact that book seven would have been much shorter, there does seem a strong character-based reason: Dumbledore is old, learned, wise, and a teacher. This has certain side-effects.

1) In order to teach effectively, it helps to understand the students’ perspective. Unfortunately, once you are experienced enough with any particular subject, there are details that you start to take for granted. It therefore becomes very hard to put yourself in the shoes of someone without that experience. One of Dumbledore’s biggest mistakes is forgetting that not everyone is as clever as he is (despite his frequent false modesty on the topic).

2) Teacher’s often try to lead their students to work things out for themselves, giving them the tools then offering hints/nudges as appropriate. Dumbledore shows exactly this tendency when sharing memories of Voldemort’s past with Harry. He also keeps certain information (e.g. how he injured his hand) tantilisingly out of reach, again likely a habit from encouraging students to strive.

3) It is easy to get caught in the role of teacher and ignore the possibility of learning anything from your students (which is missing out on a lot, in my experience). We have no indication that Dumbledore speaks/understands parseltongue, yet he does not ask Harry to translate for him. It’s possible that someone else has already done so, but given a) the scarcity of parselmouths, and b) Dumbledore’s reluctance to share information, this seems unlikely.

So, in some ways it’s kind of inevitable. There’s even a grim portent as Dumbledore remarks that

“…being—forgive me—rather cleverer than most men, my mistakes tend to be correspondingly huger.”***

* It’s similar to the “from a certain point of view” excuse used by Obi-Wan Kenobi. Technically correct, but not the way any reasonable person would interpret the statement.

** He may not know where Snape’s ultimate loyalties lie, but he has fairly strong evidence. He certainly does know what has happened in the past, and some details (not necessarily all) could have been helpful to Snape and Harry working together. Then again, maybe he wanted them at obvious loggerheads so as to preserve Snape’s cover and… oh dear, I’ve gone cross-eyed.

*** For those interested in some well-reasoned ponderings on the details of Dumbledore’s plans, and the flaws therein:
Dumbledore’s Deadly Plans
The Flaw in the Plan

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Posted by on December 22, 2014 in Harry Potter